Children's Hospital Oakland - Flu vaccination
Kids and H1N1 Vaccine
Should you get your kids vaccinated against H1N1? Find out what physicians and parents say.
By Karen Asp
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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You're on the fence about having your kids get the H1N1 vaccine. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the vaccine for at-risk categories, including children and young adults aged 6 months to 24 years old, you're still not sure. Want help deciding what to do? Here's what parents and physicians are saying.
As you may know, unlike the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu (swine flu) is targeting a younger population and causing more serious complications. Case in point: Between Aug. 30 and Oct. 31, 2009, more than 17,000 people were hospitalized and 672 died from influenza illnesses, mostly from H1N1 rather than the typical seasonal flu. A total of 129 deaths in children from 2009 H1N1 have been reported.
Yet many parents have hesitated, citing fears over the vaccine's safety and side effects, or even lack of time or inconvenience in getting their kids vaccinated. Meet Tiffani Lawton of Marmora, N.J., a registered nurse and mother of four children who range in age from 3 to 18, none of whom are getting vaccinated. "I don't trust the CDC and its recommendations," she says, adding that she's also concerned about vaccine safety. "There hasn't been enough time to test it, and although some reports state that autism isn't caused by vaccines, I believe my 4-year-old's autism was triggered by one or a few of the new vaccines."
Wendy Mikola of Powell, Ohio, however, didn't think twice. "With a 5-month-old in the house, I didn't want to take any chances," says Mikola, mother of three. Her 5- and 3-year-olds recently received the first dose of the vaccine, and when her baby turns 6 months, she'll get vaccinated as well. (Babies under 6 months cannot receive the vaccine.) Mikola and her husband have also been vaccinated.
Laurence B. Givner, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Brenner's Children's Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem, N.C., wishes more parents would follow Mikola's lead. "It's important that children get vaccinated," he says. "Otherwise, the consequences could be dire."
By getting the vaccine, which comes in shot or nasal spray form, children have significant protection against the H1N1 flu (swine flu). In an ongoing clinical trial, 100 percent of the youngest children (6 months to 35 months) and 94 percent of children aged 3 to 9 years had a protective immune response (antibodies) after two doses of the vaccine. Older children had a strong immune response after only one dose.
The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be as effective as the seasonal flu vaccine in preventing illness — which reduces the risk of flu by about 80 to 90 percent, says Nathan Litman, MD, professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. Even if your child does contract H1N1, the symptoms will be less severe. (The H1N1 vaccine doesn't protect against seasonal flu, though, so your child will need a separate shot for that.)
As for the safety of the vaccine, Litman stands behind the years of research put into the seasonal flu. "The H1N1 vaccine was processed the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine, and it's just as safe," he says, adding that there are no adverse effects from the H1N1 vaccine other than trivial ones.
With the injectable vaccine, for instance, swelling, soreness, and perhaps a low-grade fever a day or so after getting the shot are common. With the inhaled vaccine, runny nose, sore throat, and headache are possible, but these symptoms are mild compared to the flu itself, Litman says.
If you decide to get your children vaccinated, know that children under 10 require two doses, separated by three to four weeks. The injectable vaccine is approved for all children 6 months of age and older, but the nasal mist vaccine is only for children who are healthy and over 2 years old. It then takes about 14 days to have protection from the vaccine.
As a parent, of course, the decision about whether to get your children vaccinated ultimately lies in your hands. For Mikola, there's peace of mind now that her children have been vaccinated, although she's still making sure they practice good flu-prevention hygiene like washing their hands frequently, covering coughs, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Lawton is doing everything to keep her children's immune system healthy, supplementing their diets with vitamins and giving them echinacea and vitamin C when a sniffle starts.
Video: H1N1: My child is sick with flu symptoms. When should I call the doctor?
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